Friday, November 25, 2016

Buzz Aldrin, and walking on the moon (July 20, 1969)

Buzz Aldrin on the moon

I wrote this after listening to an audiobook of Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From The Moon, written by Buzz Aldrin with Ken Abraham (2009). I wonder if a support author like Abraham ever dreams of forming a literary masterpiece out of a celebrity's memories. That is almost what this is.

That lunar landing remains a witnessed miracle without counterpart: the moon, indeed, sent us a little mad. The now-popular idea that it couldn't have really happened is testimony both to the miracle and to the madness. As philosophers have often pointed out, witnesses to a miracle will, as details fade, tend to eventually deny that they could have seen what makes no sense; every other explanation, no matter how far-fetched, that saves the appearances of non-miraculous earth, will (in accord with Hume's reasoning) soon be recognized as more probable than the miracle itself. That the moon had for millennia been a defined barrier in our cosmology, separating the transient from the transcendent world; that we would actually see history change, the very moment (no later re-enactments for the cameras).  Now as much as then, the wonder of it is palpable. And yet we easily forget. Because what was the consequence? What was all that about? Do we inhabit the moon? Do we use it for anything? 

Anyway, Magnificent Desolation is a wry and funny parable about pioneering achievement, the aging of a civilization, our slow embrace of virtuality. It begins with the Apollo 11 landing.  Buzz in his later years slowly morphs into the media personality role that, immediately after the Apollo 11 mission, he found so difficult to handle. Years of depression and alcoholism were to follow. Buzz at these low points seems to be trifling, still obsessed with serving his country and still jotting down wild designs while increasingly isolated from NASA, but (after his third marriage, to Lois) it all starts to come right. The space programme seems to be dying on its feet, but Buzz's vision continues to shine a light (if only in virtuality and space tourism for billlionaires) on how to continue the amazing ascent of those sixty years from Kitty Hawk to the moon, thereafter in forty-year hiatus.

After having attained the goal of reaching the moon Joan had forgiven me for my infidelity, and still hoped that the "old Buzz" would return once I was "well". She even went along with me on the tour to help promote the book. Before long we received overtures about a possible deal in the works to do a television movie. So, although Joan and I still weren't functioning well as a married couple, we were at least together. Indeed, we could have been fine, but for my recurring bouts of depression, that led to drinking too much alcohol, which led to further depression. It was a downward spiral. I wasn't obnoxious when I drank. I did, however, feel less inhibited. Drinking relaxed me, imparting an almost euphoric sense of wellness. I didn't realize that I was not impressing other people that way at all.

(Random quote - difficult to quote from an audio book...)

One of the wonders of the co-authored celebrity autobiography is that it can have a flexible voice that sometimes initimately records the celebrity's own experience, but, all mixed in with this narrative, can with equal propriety gush like a fan. Every chapter manages to drag in a reference to "after all, this guy did GO TO THE MOON!!!" Even Lois's wedding ring. "That is one small step," quips Buzz the keynote speaker, "in the words of a guy I went on a trip with once."

As an insight into the cream of western society, Hollywood entertainer Tom Hanks, rocker Ted Nugent, talkshow host Jay Leno and all, you can't do better. Presidents, royalty, chiefs of staff - and Aldrin, somehow more eminent than them all, the one who did something.


Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home From The Moon, I now realize, belongs to a particular sub-genre of personal narratives in which the focus pans outwards from the newsworthy event that we all want to read more about to its aftermath and its place in the narrator's personal journey. Another good one is Beck Weathers' Left for Dead: My Journey Home from Everest

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